March 20 2021 Worship
Inspired by verses from Psalm 22
For the past several weeks we have been focusing on the Psalms in worship.
I find the Psalms welcoming terrain because relating to them doesn’t require fully understanding their context. Psalms are less about intellectual mastery and much more about emotional solidarity.
In their most basic reading, the Psalms exist as blueprints for structuring our innate emotional neurosis manifest when one commits to living faithfully in a world that demands certainty. One-minute things are the worst they have ever been and God has abandoned us and the next everything is amazing and God, well, God loves us again. Each Psalm follows a similarly fashioned pattern for processing the hectic emotional life innate to the experience of being human.
From this perspective, the Psalms are permission to feel fully and respond respectfully to our emotions as a means of relating to Christ, as a method of connecting with the Creator. The Psalms create a pathway to presenting ourselves as completely vulnerable and utterly dependent on something greater than ourselves for survival. It is their presence in the Bible that normalizes the daily invasion of emotions that dependably rush in and take over, preventing the more centered, logical thought processes from having their say.
In the volcanic explosion of intense emotions, the world is black or white, all or nothing, one way or no way. Heavy emotions can’t tolerate the habitat of the in-between, the gray, the uncertain, the unknown. And, because of this, unchecked emotions can wreck a perfectly good thing if we let them.
We can balance the impact of emotions by remembering emotions are information. Emotions are not facts. Any given emotion is simply one interpretation of an experience requiring the application of contemplative compassion. Emotions are best welcomed as valuable visitors without an invitation to take over as ruling dictators.
In Micheal LeFebvre’s book, The Liturgy of Creation, he introduces an entire genre in biblical studies called Gospel harmonies. These “harmonies” attempt to resolve chronological and other differences between the gospels. But, LeFebvre argues, “while a gospel harmony may help assuage one’s discomfort with those differences, it is better to face the differences and consider why the authors used their descriptive latitude to record events as they did.”
The learning, the truth, presents itself in the cracks of our stories. Where human emotion and divine reality don’t line up. The patterned laments and praise of the Psalmist highlight this magic of misalignment. What better way to celebrate God’s faithfulness than to cry out our feelings of abandonment? What could possibly be more efficient than to honestly declare our doubts to more fully understand the truth of our reality.
The Psalmist welcomes his feelings and in so doing reestablishes his placement in the divine reality that God has never and will never leave him. This is the work of the Psalms; spiritual strength training in the exercise of reflective resistance. Reflecting on our emotions, observing the wider experience and resisting the urge to harmonize our emotional state with our experienced reality just so we can have a momentary sense of certainty in our world.
Living in this gap of uncertainty, this gap where our human emotions and the divine reality fail to meet, is the purpose of worship. Worship brings to the center of the community the emotional reactivity that externally polarizes and internally punishes so that together we can re-member the divine reality of our belonging to the cosmic Christ visible in the presence of Creation. Worship bridges individual belonging across time and beyond place so that a community is empowered to, “ritually commemorate significant event so that we may enter ordinary time transformed, able to take up our lives in a new way.”
We gather to observe, name and make meaning of the misalignments which have thrown themselves upon us during the week, the months, the years. And, to realign our lives and our community’s life with the “order of the cosmos established by God.” Worship identifies, reclaims and restores our participation in the divine created order so that we are present participants with the rest of God’s creation.
This re-membering of divine reality and our created purpose within that reality must be worked out regularly through the gathering of a people honestly struggling to praise God in the midst of overwhelming global and local and personal problems. As Diane Bergant explains in her book, The Earth is The Lord’s, “enacted rites themselves enjoy profound re-creative powers. They can help repair the mistakes of the past and they can bring new and ordered worlds into being.”
The natural and valuable emotions of despair, discouragement, bitterness and rage must not become our involuntary, unnoticeable ends. This is the gift the Psalmist offers: a curriculum to utilize emotions as tools for renewal and ultimately for honest re-engagement with our relationship to ourselves, to one another and to the holiness present in all of creation.
My prayer is that this same gift of misalignments guides us as we prepare to gather together again for in-person worship. My prayer is that this same curriculum revealing the distance between human emotional chaos and divine ordered reality cultivates a communal and transformational acceptance of our inescapable belonging to the Cosmic Christ, to the God of all Creation.